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"Righteous Gentiles" -- Trained and Organized to Love

In the liturgical calendar(s) of The Episcopal Church (The Book of Common Prayer, Lesser Feasts and Fasts, and the trial-use Holy Women, Holy Men), various days are set aside to remember or commemorate a number of saints, martyrs, heroes of the faith, and occasions.

Today (Thursday, July 16) is a day to commemorate "The Righteous Gentiles."

"Righteous Gentiles" is a variation of Righteous Among the Nations," an honorific the State of Israel uses to describe non-Jews who risked their lives during World War II to save Jews from extermination by Nazis and their collaborators.

You can read a full article here which explains the sacrifices of Raoul Wallenberg (Swedish, Lutheran), Hiram Bingham IV (American, Episcopalian), Carl Lutz (Swiss, Evangelical), and Chiune Sugihara (Japanese, Orthodox).

 But today I'd like to focus on the life of André Trocmé (French, Reformed) and his wife, Magda, who saved the lives of thousands of Jews in France during the Nazi occupation.

 I first learned about Trocmé and the church in Le Chambon of which he was a pastor when I read the book Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed: The Story of the Village of Le Chambon and How Goodness Happened There by Philip Hallie. 
(Do you know, have you read the book? Let me know.)*

 The book tells an important story: during the darkest and most terrible years of World War II, when the evil viruses of fascism, anti-Semitism, and jingoism came together and Nazi domination of Europe (and beyond) seemed unstoppable, the people of Le Chambon quietly but effectively went about the business of resistance, creating safe haven for Jewish refugees even though they knew it was against the law and extremely dangerous.

 "The people of Le Chambon knew about the false identity cards," Hallie writes, "they knew that sheltering foreign refugees and not registering them under their true names was in violation of the laws of France. But they also knew that sometimes - and this was one of those times - obeying the law meant doing evil, doing harm."

What I find so remarkable about Le Chambon is how "normal" and "ordinary" their actions seemed to them at the time: "Things had to be done, that's all, and we happened to be there to do them," Magda Trocmé said in a typical statement, "You must understand it was the most natural thing in the world to help these people."

As you read the book, you discover why the actions of the villagers was, in fact, "natural." 

 Their actions were natural because they had faith and they were trained to love.  

 When I say they "had faith," I don't mean they subscribed to some intellectual doctrine. "For Trocmé," Hallie writes, "the test of whether a faith was real lay not in patience or in passionately rehearsed imagery [of Heaven], but in what that faith could do to make our own lives and the lives of others precious now, in our homes, in our villages."

And when I say they were "trained to love," I don't mean they were trained to feel certain ways or have certain emotions. I mean they were trained to put love into action by literally opening their doors to those seeking refuge.  

They were not only trained to love, they were organized to love, in a decentralized yet highly structured network of small groups that met at people's homes when gathering as a large group became too dangerous.

 Here's the question I'm asking today: 

"How do we, as a Christian faith community in Falls Church in 2015, develop such a sense of faith and love among ourselves so that helping people -- even when it is unpopular or dangerous -- is 'the most natural thing in the world' for us?"

I'm fascinated by that question - so much that I would love to offer a book study this fall on Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed for anyone who'd like to join me.

I'd like to offer the book study in two versions: a traditional book study group that meets in person, and another virtual book study where anyone can participate online. Interested? Contact me, because...

 "I, who share Trocmé's and the Chambonnias' beliefs in the preciousness of human life, may never have the moral strength to be much like the Chambonnias or like Trocmé, Hallie writes, "but I know what I want to have the power to be. 

"I know that I want to have a door in the depths of my being, a door that is not locked against the faces of other human beings. I know I want to be able to say, from those depths, 'naturally, come in, and come in.'"

*Also, speaking of books and another possible book study: anyone reading The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt?  


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